Formal Analysis of the Indian Pass Painting by Thomas Cole

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Formal Analysis of the Indian Pass Painting by Thomas Cole
Art forms an important part of human culture. Through art, human beings can express themselves, be creative, and preserve their history. Specifically, through the artistic process of painting, individuals can create paintings that represent imaginary or real events, places, or people. These paintings can serve as historical artifacts for future generations, storing information about the past and helping people to connect and understand the past. This essay examines one past painting by Thomas Cole. Famously known as the father of the Hudson River School, an art movement focused on Romantic landscape painting, Cole mainly focused or themed his artistic creations on natural landscapes, God, and the rise and fall of empires (Wallach 336-338). This essay then focuses on one specific painting titled Indian Pass to formally analyze it to understand why it was made and what the painting is about. The Indian Pass is a greenery landscape painting, which Cole was famous for, which helps to highlight the innate nature of the lands in America as forested and unexplored long before the invasion of Europeans on America.
The Indian Pass painting represents the Romantic landscape painting that Cole was widely famous for. According to Felker, the landscape drawings of Cole have been widely acknowledged as the stylistic model for the graphic work of the Hudson River School, and Cole is regarded as an important influence on the development of 19th-century American landscape drawing (p. 60). In the Indian Pass, this landscape drawing style is evident as the painting depicts a mountain landscape, as shown in Figure 1. In the painting, Cole presents the landscape in a painting that begins with a close-up of tall trees with huge tree trunks on the shores of a river in the foreground, a densely forested area that rises into a mountain in the middle ground, and a combination of a clouded sky around the peak of the mountain and a clear sky in the background of the painting. This combination of elements in the paintings helps to create a romantic natural landscape of a forested and mountainous area. The close-up imagery in the foreground shows a native man with a bow in hand next to a tree trunk that rises over the river. In this foreground section of the painting, branches have fallen, huge rocks on the river and its shores, and woods are covered in lichen. Unlike the middle ground, where the forest is denser, in the foreground, there are only three huge trees, one on the left, another on the center, and the other on the right side of the painting. In the middle ground of the painting, the trees are denser, creating a densely forested area that runs from the river’s shores to the top of the mountain. The mountain appears too high, such that its peak pierces through the clouds that cover a large part of the background section of the painting. However, the sky is clear on the left side of the background, and the sun appears to be rising from this side of the mountain, illuminating its light from the left side of the painting across to the right side. This depiction allows Cole to create a landscape of an early morning mountainous, forested area.
Cole might have created this landscape painting to remind his audience of the past nature of the land. While the painting was created in 1847, it has elements that prove that it might have been painted to highlight a previous period. Among these elements is the native American figure in the picture’s foreground. Cole represents this man holding a bow and in native attire, highlighting that the man was probably hunting and gathering in that part of the landscape. This depiction is despite the fact that by 1847, native Americans no longer inhabited the scenic landscape that the painter represents. Cole also shows the landscape as densely forested from the foreground to the middle ground section. The trees are close together, creating a green canopy that highlights a largely inhabited area. This depiction represents a past in which America was a largely inhabited land, full of greenery landscapes that transcended the area from the lands up to the mountains. Thus, the painting helps to bring memories of the past in which the lands in America were hugely unexplored and inhabited, covered by dense and thick forests that created green and natural landscapes such as the one Cole shows in the Indian Pass.

Figure 1: Thomas Cole, Indian Pass, 1847.
The Indian Pass is a landscape painting in which Cole highlights the nature of America long before the European invasion of America. The painting depicts the American land as hugely unexplored and inhabited, thus covered in dense forests that run across the land and into the mountains. The forests were mainly unoccupied by man, with native Americans using them for hunting and gathering. The landscapes also existed in their pure forms, with clear rivers and huge tall trees covered in lichen, which only fell by themselves and were not cut by humankind. Overall, this painting depicts a past period in which America was unexplored, and the land was covered in beautiful green and natural landscapes. 
Works Cited
Felker, Tracie. “First Impressions: Thomas Cole’s Drawings of His 1825 Trip up the Hudson River.” American Art Journal, vol. 24, no. 1/2, 1992, pp. 60–93.
Wallach, Alan. “Thomas Cole’s ‘River in the Catskills’ as Antipastoral.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 84, no. 2, 2002, pp. 334–50.

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